Friday, February 5, 2010

Why is "self-forcing" Necessary?

With a spiritual rule in hand, all that one now needs is the focus of will to follow it.  What and how to fast, pray, read and worship should be pretty clear (at least clear enough for where a person is in their stage of spiritual growth).  To carry out a rule requires the work of the Spirit within us.  We need the help of the sacraments of the Church.  But we also must exert our own efforts to overcome the forces and demands that come from our physical body.  These are referred to as the "passions."  Our main effort is to quench these passions so that grace can work from deep within outward guiding our every movement.


With our Baptism the seed has been planted along with the zeal that has led us to this point and this needs to be protected. We must carefully proceed in a way that does not extinguish this zeal.
Saint Theophan says,
The seed of life has been planted––guard it with everything you have. ..You have received the Spirit––do not extinguish it.  If you are zealous be zealous for what is great.


Our work to implement our rule is a labor of "self-opposition."  This is what Saint Theophan calls "self-forcing." We are undertaking efforts that will oppose the passions of the body.  The forces we must oppose are both from our physical nature and from the devil.  One reinforces the others to distract us on our path of spiritual growth. We need to be prepared to fight them with all our effort.
Saint Theophan says,
It is necessary...to work against the passions directly, to oppose them to their faces,  fight them and win––in ourselves and in their sources and supporters. To determine the guidelines for this we must envision inner, or spiritual, warfare––in the larger scheme, as well as piece by piece.  This is the ascetical labor of self-opposition.


We have to make sure the battle is not lost because we lost our motivation and inner power, our zeal. Our rules are intended to preserve our zeal o we can engage in"self-forcing."  Our rule needs to allow for the renewal of the powers we expend in this effort and to assure they are strong enough to overcome the passions.


Saint Theophan says,
Everything related to this should be contained in the following sets of rules:
1. Rules for preserving the inner spirit of zeal
2. Rules for exercising the powers for the good, or self-forcing
3. Rules for warring with the passions, or exercising self-opposition.


The most common mistake of a beginner is thinking they are capable of more than they can sustain.  A spiritual guide may support a rule that includes only 5o repetitions of the Jesus prayer and three prostration.  But the over eager beginner will think that they can do 300 repetitions of the prayer and 20 prostrations (You can think of similar efforts in relation to other practices such as fasting and reading).  Well, from personal experience, I can assure you that this over-zealousness will last not longer than two weeks before you find that your inner strength is drained and you can no longer sustain it.  The danger is that you give up all together and fail to continue along the path determined by your rule.


All efforts must be combined with full participation in the sacraments of the Church and ongoing support from a spiritual father.


"Self-forcing" is key to "self-opposition" for our progress, but our approach must be balanced and tailored to our capability.


Ref: Path to Salvation, pp 218-120

6 comments:

  1. Starting out small is the best way to go for sure. I think most regular people( with lots of pride and too much zeal) bite off more than they can chew. I know I did. The other danger I find is that it's easy to either do too little or lose focus and be scattered during prayer, simply going through the motions in an effort to "get it over with" so to speak.

    It takes humility, perseverance, honesty(am I attentive?) and the willingness to make a habit of it.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I agree with what you say Justin. We seem to share the same experience. Some times we do have to just have perseverance to complete our rule. The evil forces will do everything possible to discourage us.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Deacon, is it appropriate to ask one's spiritual father to "lighten" a spiritual rule? Early in our inquirer state I requested a spiritual rule from our priest and he gave me one. I have had a difficult time keeping up and don't want to be lazy, but wonder if it's "more than I can chew." Or is my place to trust what he gave me and press on in attemepting to do it?

    ~ Juliana

    ReplyDelete
  4. I think I'll add to what I said above -- I really could see me doing better through the grace of God with a smaller rule. I have seven children, including a toddler who sleeps in our room (who I don't want to wake up by praying in the room when I get up), and first thing in the morning in our home is busy. Honestly, sometimes I stay in bed because I know that it will be such a huge struggle trying to get it all in if I get up and go out -- I know there will be a lot of busy-ness about me (we live in a very small house). Do I bring this up with Father, or, again, just press on?

    ~ Juliana

    ReplyDelete
  5. Please go and talk with your spiritual father about the difficulty you are having. He will be able to guide you about question of being too difficult of being lazy. Just like in the medical world, the "medicine" might need to be adjusted.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Thank you, Deacon.

    ~ Juliana

    ReplyDelete